[Contents]

Mah-Jongg Basics


Simply put, each player in turn draws and discards a tile, in an attempt to build a 14-tile hand. In the "un-American" forms, a complete hand is comprised of four groups of three tiles plus a pair of tiles. A group of three tiles can be either three-of-a-kind or three-in-a-row. Because each tile in the Mah-Jongg set has three identical mates, "three-of-a kind" means three identical tiles (unlike Rummy, in which you could form a group with, for example, a Four of Spades, a Four of Hearts, and a Four of Clubs, in Mah-Jongg all three of your Fours would normally have to be from the same suit). Three-in-a-row groups of tiles have to be in the same suit.

The Mah-Jongg Tiles

Mah-Jongg tiles are comprised of three suits of One through Nine: Craks (also called Characters, Wan, or Ten Thousand), Bams (also called Bamboos or Sticks), and Dots (also called Balls or Circles), and other tiles known as Winds, Dragons, and Flowers (in American Mah-Jongg, Seasons tiles are referred to as Flowers).

Mah-Jongg tiles made for use in America often look different from the tiles made for use in Asian countries or in Europe. Try out the different Mah-Jongg sets available in Shanghai: Second Dynasty, and use the set that "suits" you best.

As in Shanghai, there are four of each tile (the exception being the "Flower" tiles and the Jokers-there are eight different Flowers and there are eight identical Jokers). Winds and Dragons are collectively referred to as "Honors."

The suit of Craks (Characters, Wan, Ten Thousand). There are four of each tile.
The suit of Bams (Bamboo, Sticks). There are four of each tile.

NOTE: The One Bam is usually a sparrow or peacock. If you see feet, it's probably a One Bam. You can right-click (Macintosh users: control-click) on a tile to find out its name. Some American players call the One Bam "One Bird" or "Bird."

The suit of Dots (Balls, Circles). There are four of each tile.
Honors (East, South, West, and North Wind; White, Green, and Red Dragon). There are four of each tile.


NOTE: The white dragon is often used as a "zero" in mathematical hands in the American game. American players often call "soap" when discarding this tile, because the tile usually resembles a bar of soap.

Also, American dragons look very different from dragons in Chinese or Japanese tile sets (see below). You can right-click (Macintosh users: control-click) on a tile to find out its name at any time.


Dragons: American (left); Chinese (center); Japanese (right).

Flowers (American tiles). Flowers on left, Seasons on right.
Plum, Orchid, Chrysanthemum, Bamboo, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

In a real Mah-Jongg set, there may be a wide variety of different tiles which are called "Flowers." The ones shown above are from Shanghai: Second Dynasty's American Mah-Jongg set. If you choose a different Mah-Jongg set (in the Tiles menu), you will see different-looking Flowers in the game.

Flowers (Chinese tiles). Flowers on left, Seasons on right.
Old Man, Pot of Gold, Cat, Rat, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

Flowers (Japanese tiles).Flowers on left, Seasons on right.
Plum, Orchid, Chrysanthemum, Bamboo, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

You can always right-click (Macintosh users: control-click) on a tile to find out its name (if you are not sure if it's a Flower).

*Note: if the pop-up text says "Season," that is the same as a "Flower" in the American game. Shanghai: Second Dynasty makes a distinction for two very important reasons:

1. In the game of Shanghai, Flower tiles only match Flower tiles (Flowers do not match Seasons, and vice versa).
2. In the Chinese and Western Mah-Jongg games, a "Bouquet" requires either four Flowers or four Seasons. A four-tile mix of Flower tiles and Season tiles does not constitute a bouquet.

Thus, in the American game as well, the pop-up text says "Flowers" and "Seasons" both. You can regard these terms as being interchangeable in the American game.

The numbers on the Flower tiles are important when playing other forms of Mah-Jongg; the numbers are not important in the American game.

Jokers. There are eight Jokers in the tile set.
American Joker
Chinese Joker
Japanese Joker

Terminals
The Ones and Nines of the suit tiles are special (because they are harder to use in three-in-a-row combinations), and are referred to as "Terminals."

Simples
That leaves us with the Twos through Eights of the suit tiles - these are collectively called "Simples."

Groupings
Suit tiles (Craks, Dots, and Bams) can be used to make three-of-a-kind combinations or three-in-a-row combinations. Honors can only be used to make three-of-a-kind combinations (they cannot be used to make three-in-a-row combinations). These groupings can be either in the player's hand (concealed) or melded (exposed) on the table face-up, for all players to see.

Pung
In Chinese Mah-Jongg parlance, a three-of-a-kind is called a "Pung." Many Western Mah-Jongg players call this simply a "Triple." In Japanese, it's pronounced "Pon."

Chow (not applicable to American Mah-Jongg)
In Chinese Mah-Jongg parlance, a three-in-a-row is called a "Chow." English-speaking players of Western Mah-Jongg may call this a "Sequence" (or "Run" or "Straight"). The Japanese say "Chi." A Chow can only be made from suit tiles (Craks, Bams, or Dots).

Kong
It is also possible to make a four-of-a-kind combination (normally these count the same as a Pung or Triple), which is called a 'Kong.' Many American players of Western Mah-Jonng call this simply a 'Quad.' The Japanese say "Kan."

Quint (American Mah-Jongg only)
With the use of eight Jokers ("wild tiles" which can represent any other tile) in the game, it is possible to make more than four of a kind. American players have historically played with Quints, Sextuplets, Septuplets and even Octuplets. Shanghai: Second Dynasty's American game does support Quints (five of a kind) but does not support larger groupings of identical tiles. A quint can be made with four of a kind plus one joker, or with five jokers, or any combination in between.

The groupings in a Mah-Jongg hand can either be exposed or concealed, depending on the rules and the kind of hand you're trying to build. A player may also choose to build a Special Hand which is a defined combination of tiles which is given a special name (see the Special Hands section).

Playing Mah-Jongg

In real life, four people sit around a table, with the tiles on top of the table. Depending on which variety of Mah-Jongg is being played, there may be 136 tiles or 144 tiles or 152 tiles. There is also a pair of dice, and a marker to designate the Prevailing Wind (not used in the American game). American players also use racks, but the game can be played without them.

The players turn all the tiles face-down and shuffle them, then each player builds a two-tile-high Wall from the tiles. If 136 tiles are used, the four walls are 17 tiles long (remember, it's two tiles high). If 144 tiles are used, the four walls are 18 tiles long. If 152 tiles are used, the four walls are 19 tiles long.

Shanghai: Second Dynasty is a computer game, not a real life game with a table and actual tiles and people, so we have streamlined the processes of setting up and playing. The construction of the wall is said to be "transparent" since it happens automatically and invisibly to you. Part of the transparent process of dealing the tiles includes "breaking the Wall."

Usually by means of a dice roll, the "dealer" is chosen. The dealer is designated as "East." The dealer rolls the dice to determine where the Wall is broken, and where the deal of tiles starts. Tiles are dealt from this break in the Wall in a clockwise manner. The "front" of the Wall is where the tiles are being drawn from, the "back" of the wall is the opposite end. In Shanghai: Second Dynasty, the Wall is not displayed onscreen. In Shanghai: Second Dynasty, we show the "wall" as a number in the lower right corner of the display. In the Chinese and Japanese games, play continues until the Wall has 14 tiles left. In the American and Western games, play comes to a halt when there are no tiles left in the Wall.

Enough about the Wall! On with the game setup procedure!

Tiles are dealt to the players four at a time, each player taking two stacks from the front of the Wall. After each player has been dealt 12 tiles, the Dealer (East) takes two tiles -- the 1st and 5th tiles -- then the other players each take one tile. Now East has 14 tiles, and the other players have 13.

Now play can begin. In the Chinese and Japanese games, play begins with the Dealer discarding a tile. In the American and Western games, play begins with a "Charleston," a "dance" in which each of the players exchanges unwanted tiles with the others. More about the Charleston in the chapters on American and Western Mah-Jongg. After the Charleston, Dealer discards a tile.

Mah-Jongg is all about discarding unwanted tiles and (hopefully) acquiring wanted tiles, to complete a valid 14-tile hand.

On your turn, you begin by taking a 14th tile into the hand, either by drawing it from the Wall or by taking a tile discarded by someone else.

In Shanghai: Second Dynasty's Mah-Jongg game, all game actions are made by means of the Action Bar -- an array of buttons at the bottom of the screen -- and by clicking on the tiles themselves. Since the Action Bar is so important, let's consider that first.

The Action Bar

The Action bar at the bottom of the screen allows you to perform all of the actions you will need to make in a game of Mah-Jongg. The Action bar can also be used as a "hint" for what actions you need to take. If you are new to Mah-Jongg and aren't sure what to do, just watch the buttons in the Action bar: they'll light up when you can claim a tile, when you need to discard, and whenever you can take an action. The buttons may be labeled in Chinese, English, or Japanese style. To change the labels on the buttons, go to the Preferences menu and select Button Labels, then select either Chinese, English, or Japanese.

Pass/Draw

The Pass/Draw button allows you to "tell" your opponents that you are passing on a discarded tile and will not claim it. If the discarded tile comes from the player on your left, the Pass button changes to Draw. So if you don't want to claim that tile, you will draw a new tile from the Wall by pressing Draw. (Once you press Draw, you can't change your mind.) You don't need to press Pass after each player discards, except in these two situations: (1) if the discarded tile could be used in your hand (check what other buttons are highlighted; do you have Jokers?) and (2) if you have selected to have an Autopass Timer in the Preferences menu. If you want to change the way Passing works, change the Autopass setting under the Preferences menu when it is your turn.

Keep

The Pass/Draw button sometimes says "Keep" (if you have the Frish option selected in American Mah-Jongg). Press the Keep button to forego the Frish.

Discard

When you have 14 tiles in your hand, this button lights up. Highlight the tile you wish to discard (by clicking on an unhighlighted tile or by using the arrow buttons to move the highlight,) and either click on the highlighted tile or on the Discard button. If you regret having discarded that particular tile, and if "Take-back" is checked under the Preferences menu, then you have a few seconds to click on the tile, taking it back into your hand. Your turn will then end. (Note: Take-back is only available when playing offline against A.I. opponents; it is not available when playing against real people on the Internet. Take-Back is not available in all mah-jongg games.)
The Discard button can also be used to cancel certain claims. If you are playing offline (against A.I. opponents), and the Take-Back preference is on and available, and if you claim a discard to make an exposure, and if the program needs direction from you as to which way to use the discard (thus lighting up the arrow buttons), you can choose the Cancel button to cancel the claim.

Urge (Multiplayer mode only)

This button is only available when you play online against real people (it is not available when playing solo against A.I. opponents). Sometimes one of your opponents may take too long to think about his/her move. Pressing this button causes "your" voice to urge that opponent to make his/her move.

Pung/"Trip"/Pon

This button lights up when you have two identical tiles in your hand and the discarded tile can be used to meld a Pung (Triple). Press the button or click on the tile to take the discard; the tile will be taken and your matching pair will be moved from your hand, and the three matching tiles will be melded face-up on the table for all to see. If you don't want to claim the discard, press Pass to signal to other players that you are not interested in claiming that tile. Note: When you have a concealed Pung (three identical tiles contained in your hand, not visible to the other players), you do not need to meld that Pung - it is to your advantage to keep it concealed in your hand - thus the Pung button does not light up in this circumstance.

Kong/Quad/Kan

This button lights up when you can make a Kong. There are a couple of different ways you can make a Kong.

AMERICAN GAME -- When you hold three tiles in the hand and someone discards a fourth matching tile, the button lights up.

CHINESE, WESTERN, AND JAPANESE GAMES -- When you have a concealed Pung (you are holding the three tiles in the hand) and you obtain the fourth matching tile (either by someone's discarding it, or by drawing it yourself from the Wall), you may meld the Kong. The four tiles are laid down on the table, with the two middle tiles face-down. This is a special case called a "concealed Kong" because you already had the Pung of tiles in your hand - although everyone knows you have melded a Kong, the meld is made only so that you can keep the required number of tiles in your hand. The Kong does not disallow you from otherwise going out with a concealed hand (which is worth extra points).

CHINESE, WESTERN, AND JAPANESE GAMES -- The Kong button also lights up when you have a melded Pung (face-up on the table where all can see it) and you draw the fourth matching tile from the Wall. You can add the tile to your meld and draw again (you cannot claim a player's discarded tile for this).

Quint (American game only)

This button lights up when you are holding four of a kind and someone discards a fifth, enabling you to take it to expose a Quint.

Chow/"Sequ"/Chi

This button lights up when the player to your left discards a tile you can use to meld a Chow (Sequence). Just press the Chow button to claim the discard; if you have to use the Arrow buttons to move the highlights (see Left/Right Arrows below), press Chow again after the desired tiles are raised and highlighted.

Left/Right Arrows

These buttons can be used to move the highlight(s) to the left or right within the tiles in your hand. You can use the arrow to select potential discards, and to tell the computer how you want to use a discarded tile. For example, if you had a One, Two, Four, and Five of Dots, and the player to your left discards a Three Dot, and you claim the discard for a Chow, the computer cannot know if you want to meld the One and Two or the Four and Five (or the Two and Four) with the Three Dot. The computer raises two tiles in your hand - you can use the Left and Right Arrow buttons to move the highlight to the left or right. Similarly, when playing Western rules with Jokers, you can use the arrow buttons to tell the computer which tiles you want to use in a Pung or Kong.

Sort

Press this button to automatically sort the tiles in your hand. Tiles will be sorted into Chinese order (dragons at the right) or American order (dragons with associated suits), according to how you have the preference set. Any time you desire, you can manually sort the tiles in your hand. Pressing this button activates automatic sorting.

Win

When you have drawn a tile which completes your hand (giving you the required four groups-of-three and a pair) or when someone has discarded a tile which completes your hand and your hand meets the required minimum score (if applicable), this button lights up. Simply press the Win button to claim the tile and proclaim "Mah-Jongg" (also called "going out").

Be careful, though - make sure you are aware of the rules in effect in the game you are playing.

For example, if you are playing Chinese, with a Minimum Score requirement, and the False Declaration Penalty is on, the Win button is always lit up! You should only declare a win if your hand will score enough points, otherwise you may incur a penalty!

Frish (American Mah-Jongg only)

The Win button changes to a "Frish" button at the appropriate time after the Charleston in American Mah-Jongg, if you have chosen to have the Frish option. When you don't like the tiles you got, you can press this button to request a redeal.

Decline (American Mah-Jongg only)

The Win button changes to a "Decline" button at the appropriate time during or after the Charleston in American Mah-Jongg. If you don't want a second Charleston, or if you don't want to trade any tiles during the optional Courtesy pass, press Decline to inform the computer.

As mentioned previously (it bears repeating), Mah-Jongg is all about discarding unwanted tiles and (hopefully) acquiring wanted tiles, to complete a valid 14-tile hand. On your turn, then, you begin by taking a 14th tile into the hand, either by drawing it from the Wall or by taking a tile discarded by someone else. Play goes counterclockwise around the table. Usually, the player at your left (the player who precedes you) does not discard a tile that you can take, so usually the computer automatically draws a 14th tile for you.

When you have drawn a tile, it is raised and highlighted, and is set apart from the other tiles in your hand. You have to decide whether to keep that tile (discarding something else) or throw it away. You can sort this tile into the hand, either by pressing the Sort button, or by dragging the tile into place where you want it. If you are playing against real people online, it would be best to forego this action and just discard something quickly. Experienced players know, even before drawing a 14th tile into the hand, what they will discard. Speedy play is good Mah-Jongg manners!

Usually (especially at the beginning of a game), discards made by other players cannot be used in your hand. Shanghai: Second Dynasty is a computer game, not a real-life game, and one of the advantages of a computer game is that you have the ability to choose how quickly or slowly play progresses.

The normal setting for Shanghai: Second Dynasty is for speedy play. The computer can think very quickly, so it already knows when a discard is not usable by you. Therefore the A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) opponents just go ahead and play -- you don't need to wrack your brain and wonder if every single tile is usable by you or not. The computer takes care of that automatically. If you want, you can change that feature -- see the chapter on using the Menus, specifically the "Autopass" feature in the Preferences menu.

It sometimes happens, of course, that someone discards a tile that you can use. When this occurs, the game stops to let you take action.

Claiming Discards

If the discarded tile can be used by any player to form a Pung, Kong, Quint, or for a win, that player can claim the discarded tile now. (The only player who can claim the discarded tile to form a Chow is the next player to play in turn, counter-clockwise). If a player other than the next player in turn claims a discard for a Pung or Kong or Quint, the order of play is interrupted - the player who claimed the tile discards, and play proceeds counter-clockwise from that player (skipping the turns of any players in between).

Conflicting Claims

When two different players want to claim a discard, there are rules for how such a conflict is resolved. A claim for a Pung or Kong always takes priority over a claim for a Chow. A claim for a win always takes priority over a claim for a Pung or Kong. A tile claimed by two different players for a win goes to the player who would be "in line" to take it. In American or Western Mah-Jongg (when Jokers are used), it is possible to have conflicting claims for a Pung, Kong, or Quint -- this too is decided in favor of the player next in order of play. In Japanese Mah-Jongg, it is possible for two players to win on a single discard. The computer handles all these conflicts automatically.

Winning

When you have succeeded in making a valid winning hand, your Win button will light up. In real life, you would say "Mah-Jongg!" But this is a computer game. Click the Win button to claim the win. The computer will evaluate your hand and compute the score automatically. Payment between players is made automatically. One or two results dialog boxes will be displayed. Click "Continue" to go on to the next hand in the game.


Next chapter:

American Mah-Jongg